Nov. 20, 2010

By James Briggs
Special to NCAA.com

WAVERLY, Iowa -- Moments after Saturday's NCAA Division III women's cross country race ended, Middlebury College runners leapt in to the arms of head coach Terry Aldrich as the team saw its name in the top spot on the Wartburg College video board.

Aldrich, who built Middlebury's cross-country program from scratch, is retiring after coaching the women's team for 36 years. And if Aldrich felt overcome with emotion, he sure hid it well.

"Maybe after the awards ceremony," Aldrich said.

Besides not allowing himself an early retirement party, Aldrich also wouldn't allow an immediate post-race celebration.

The winner of five previous national championships since 2000 and the first since 2008, Aldrich said he wouldn't relax until after the half-hour protest period following the event.

"It's still unofficial, so we don't really know for sure," he insisted.

Rest assured, though, the protest period came and went, and Middlebury (Vt.) remained on top with 185 points. Washington University (St. Louis) finished second with 193 points.

"They stepped up and did what they had to do," Aldrich said.

Although Aldrich was reluctant to make a big deal of capping his career with a national title, the coach's runners were glad to do it for him.

"Terry started the running program at our school. He's the heart of the whole program," junior Margo Cramer said. "To send him off like this is the best thing we could imagine."

Ranked No. 1 in the country all year, Middlebury finished what it started.

"I'm pretty proud of these women," Aldrich said. "They had a lot of pressure coming in, and for them to do it when they had to, I think that's impressive."

Perhaps most impressively, Middlebury won the title without any star runners. Cramer was Middlebury's third-best runner, finishing 31st overall in 21 minutes, 58.9 seconds. Freshman Colette Whitney finished first for Middlebury, 24th overall, in 2 minutes, 52.8 seconds; and sophomore Addie Tousley finished 29th overall in 21 minutes, 57.4 seconds.

"I think if we had come out with second today, it would have been all right, because this was the most impressive team scoring effort I've ever seen," Cramer said. "We've been running with 15 girls who can run at this level."

While Middlebury runners weren't able to run in a pack as they would have with a wider course, Cramer said the team stuck together as well as it could throughout the race.

"The spirit of our pack -- we call it a blob -- the spirit of our blob is alive," she said.

And Aldrich's spirit -- as well as his six national championships -- will stay with the Middlebury cross-country program long after his career is over.

"We've had five other championships teams, and it's hard to compare them from year to year, but this team definitely is very talented," he said. "From a pure strength point of view, we are stronger than we've ever been before."